Ragweed and Fall Pollen Allergies

Back to school season is here! Shorter days, crisp, cool evenings, and beautiful fall foliage are on the horizon. This time also marks the onset of weed pollination and the resurgence of allergy symptoms that may have taken a vacation in the hot, dry July heat. The meteorological calendar says fall begins September 22nd, but weed pollen, the main culprit of the sniffles and sneezes during fall allergy season, is already here!

Pollen Offenders

Towards the close of summer, weeds start to pollinate. Weeds grow all summer, but their pollen is usually not released until later in the growing season. This can vary year to year but typically starts mid to late August.  Ragweed, cocklebur, lamb’s quarters, pigweed, dock sorrel, English plantain, and sagebrush can all cause fall allergy symptoms and are widely spread across the U.S.

Specifically ragweed pollen is the predominate culprit of allergy symptoms from August through October, peaking on average in mid-September. Ragweed is one of the major drivers of allergy symptoms and releases huge amounts of pollen each and every day. The pollen produced by ragweed is small and light. It is released in large quantities into the air and carried for miles by the wind. Nasal congestion, runny nose, and itchy eyes are typically caused by wind-blown pollen which is easily spread for miles and miles.

Other Pollen Types

Goldenrod, which blooms at the same time that ragweed does, is instead insect-pollinated and therefore is not a significant allergen for most individuals. Insect carried pollen is produced by plants that have bright and attractive flowers. This kind of pollen is typically large and heavy, sticks to insects, and is transported during flight fertilizing other plants. These bright flowers are commonly thought to be allergy offenders, however because they do not release much pollen into the air they are not as likely the culprit of allergy symptoms.

Ragweed and Fall Pollen Allergies
Ragweed and Fall Pollen Allergies

Manage Symptoms

Checking local pollen counts is helpful to anticipate the level of exposure on any given day. Pollen counts are determined by collecting pollen on special rods. The pollen is then counted under a microscope and calculated in grains per cubic meter of air. Pollen counts tend to be the highest early in the day, or often when the wind picks up just before a large rainstorm. If you like dancing in the fall rain, or jumping in rain puddles, however, you are in luck. During a rainstorm and immediately following, pollen becomes still and dormant because the rain makes it damp and heavy. As the air becomes warmer and drier following the storm, however, the pollen count will rise again.

Pollen Avoidance

Those with weed pollen allergies should try to avoid heavily dense wooded areas or those with brush and shrubbery. These areas should be especially avoided in late August when pollen is the most dense and abundant. Pollen counts are never zero, nor will an allergy sufferer truly be able to avoid weed pollen in the late summer and early fall. However, contact may be lessened by taking simple steps to avoid pollen overload:

  • Utilizing the air conditioner or heater
  • Keeping the windows and doors at home and in the car closed
  • Utilizing the dryer rather than the fresh breeze to dry clothing
  • Changing clothes after coming in from being outdoors
  • Shower prior to getting into bed or laying on upholstered furniture

These easy steps will help to decrease pollen exposures. Also, one benefit COVID-19 may bring allergy sufferers, is that wearing of some masks will help to minimize the amount of pollen reaching the nasal passages if being worn in outdoor settings.

Get Tested

If someone is unsure whether weed pollen is a trigger for their back-to-school nasal congestion, runny nose, post nasal drip, sneezing, and itchy watery eyes, seeing their provider for an allergy test may provide the clarity they are looking for!

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Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. After spending 8 years in clinical practice, she joined United Allergy Services where she is currently the Vice President of Clinical. Amanda is also the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 

United Allergy Services is also on FacebookLinkedInor TwitterSee other interesting and related articles on the UAS Blog.


Grass Pollen Allergy: Making the Most of Summer

Summer is finally here! Longer days, days spent by the beach or the pool, and late nights catching fireflies are on the horizon. Allergies are usually associated with the spring or fall because pollen is most active during these times. However, summer allergies, especially to grass, are also common. This grass pollen allergy can cause some of the same troublesome symptoms as in other seasons.

Allergy Season

Grass begins to pollinate in the late spring, typically April or May in the northern part of the country. The pollination period in the north will then typically continue through June or July. However, in southern regions, grasses may pollinate throughout many seasons and could trigger symptoms throughout the year. These pollination time periods are when those who suffer from a grass pollen allergy

notice their symptoms at their worst.

Types of Grass Pollen

There are hundreds of different kinds of grasses throughout the United States. Fortunately, not all of them are the source of summer sneezing, congestion, and itchy eyes. Some grass pollen types are small, light, dry and can travel for hundreds of miles by the wind. One group of grasses, referred to as the northern pasture grasses, cause more allergy problems than any others. These grasses include:

  • common timothy grass
  • sweet vernal grass
  • orchard grass
  • perennial rye grass
  • Kentucky bluegrass

Another type of grass, bermuda, is a southern grass and is responsible for many troubling summer grass allergy symptoms. Johnson grass is another main culprit for grass pollen misery.

Grass pollen allergy can make summertime miserable.
Grass pollen allergy can make summer time miserable for many.

Options for Homeowners

While common Bermuda grass usually triggers allergies, some hybridized versions produce little to no pollen. One common type of hybrid Bermuda grass referred to as the "Princess 77" variety is available for homeowners. Other good hybrid Bermuda grass varieties include "Tifway" and "Santa Ana". Buffalo grass may be a good warmer climate option. This warm-season grass survives droughts and requires little supplemental watering, making it ideal for areas with watering restrictions. Types like the "UC Verde" or "609" produces only female plants, eliminating the problems of flowering and producing pollen. Although less commonly found, this is ideal for grass pollen sufferers.

Measuring Grass Pollen Counts

Those that suffer from a grass pollen allergy can benefit from checking their local pollen counts regularly. Pollen counts are determined collecting pollen on special rods. The pollen is then counted under a microscope. The pollen count is then calculated in grains per cubic meter of air. Pollen counts tend to be the highest early in the day, or often when the wind picks up just before a large rainstorm.

If you like dancing in the rain, or jumping in rain puddles, however, you are in luck. During a rainstorm and immediately following, pollen becomes still and dormant due to the rain making it damp and heavy. As the air becomes warm and dry following the storm, the pollen count will become potent again

Manage Your Grass Pollen Allergy

Pollen counts are never zero, nor will an allergy sufferer truly be able to avoid grass pollen in the summer. However, some practices may help decrease pollen exposures. For instance, utilizing the air conditioner while keeping the windows and doors to the home and car closed. Also, utilizing the dryer rather than the fresh breeze to dry clothing will help to decrease pollen exposures. It is especially important to keep windows closed when you or someone close mowing their grass.

Although it may seem like a good idea to avoid cutting the grass as much as possible, mowing grass often and keeping grass short actually causes the grass to release less pollen into the air. If a nonallergic friend or family member isn’t available to assist in cutting your grass, consider wearing a mask. Wearing masks will help to minimize the amount of pollen reaching the nasal passages. It is greatly beneficial for grass pollen sufferers to wear a mask when cutting grass or doing other yardwork.

Other Helpful Tips

Those with a grass pollen allergy should try to avoid heavily dense grassy areas, especially in early summer when pollen is the most dense and abundant. Although summer brings warmer temperatures. when you are out working in the yard, out at a park, or hiking it is recommended to wear long pants or long sleeve shirts in a light breathable fabric. This added layer of protection helps reduce the amount of pollen that comes in direct contact with your skin. Similarly, wearing sunglasses and hats also reduce pollen that contacts eyes or nestles in your hair.

Grass pollen allergy suffers should also make a habit of changing their clothes after coming in from being outdoors, and bathing prior to getting into bed/laying on upholstered furniture. Wash bedding in very hot, sanitizing cycles once a week in peak pollen seasons. It is also beneficial to remove shoes before entering your home. And do not forget your pets! They can be major sources of tracking grass pollen into your home. Make sure to wipes them down with a wet cloth or towel before they enter your home, and make sure to bathe them more frequently in high pollen seasons. And although not always feasible, the ability to keep your pets from sleeping in your bed, in your bedroom, or on your upholstered furniture will also greatly benefit you if you suffer from grass pollen.

Symptom Relief is an Option

If someone is unsure whether grass pollen is a trigger for their troublesome nasal congestion, runny nose, postnasal drip, sneezing, and itchy watery eyes, seeing their provider for an allergy test may provide the clarity they are looking for!

Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. After spending 8 years in clinical practice, she joined United Allergy Services where she is currently the Vice President of Clinical. Amanda is also the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 

United Allergy Services is also on FacebookLinkedInor TwitterSee other interesting and related articles on the UAS Blog.